By: Sgt Al Kowalenko, OMC (Retd)
I am pleased to write this blog about our 48th Veterans Services Team and to connect with all Highlanders of our Active Battalion, former serving members, and our extended Regimental Family and friends.
The subject of Veterans Services covers various topics and I often receive questions about what it actually involves and what resources are available.
What are Veterans Services? Who Is Involved From The Regiment in This Area?
48th Veterans Services is composed of an informal team of volunteers, primarily retired members of the Regiment, who address the needs and concerns of former serving members in regards to their ability to maintain independent living.
This would include, when required, addressing veterans’ ongoing physical and mental health issues and identifying what assistance the veterans and their families would need during their ongoing ageing or living process.
The simple fact is that all members of the Regiment eventually retire from service and grow older. At some point, they may need help to cope with their health and living situation, and then they will want to know how to qualify for benefits and services from various government departments and community organizations.
In my current role as coordinator of our 48th Veterans Services Team, I am in touch with other members of our Regimental Family of various ranks who have been involved in assisting our veterans over the years. They include retired Highlanders such as Tommy Thompson, Geordie Beal, Geordie Elms, Mark Bossi, Brian Patterson, Mark McVety and Dianne Love, to name a few. They help us when called upon and we welcome any other 48th members, active and retired, who would like to volunteer and help us out as the situation warrants it. The only criteria is to take an interest in the welfare of our 48th veterans when they are in need.
As well there are many members of our Regimental Family who currently assist infirm or elderly veteran parents or family members. We all have the same goal – to assist our 48th veterans and their families in any way possible when they need support.
What Is The Focus of Veterans Services? How Is It Changing?
During the past decade, we have been primarily focused on assisting our WWII veterans, our “Greatest Generation”, who have progressed through their late 80s to late 90s and early 100s. Presently we have only four WWII veterans still alive in the age range of 95-102 and we are one of the few Regiments in the country that still have living WWII veterans. Across Canada, it is estimated there are only 30,000 WWII veterans still remaining of the more than 1-million who served during 1939-45. This number is declining rapidly every year and will be depleted completely within the next five to seven years.
When the WWII generation passes, however, we will be into an era when post-War veterans will become the leading edge of the aging curve and require more living assistance. In 2021, the oldest “Baby Boomers” will be 75 and are part of a bulge of 8.6-million in our Canadian population born during the 1946-64 era. These Boomers have recently been identified as the “Grey Tsunami” since there will be so many, including veterans, requiring health support services in future.
Needless to say, since the end of WWII and the Korean War, there have been several thousand individuals who have serve in the 48th Highlanders during the 1950s, 60s, 70s, 80s and up to the present day. Not all of them will need assistance but there will be a percentage who will require support of some type. That is where our Veterans Services can be of benefit and assistance.
Also during the past 30 years, many members of our active Regiment have deployed to various overseas postings such as the Balkans and Afghanistan. Veterans Services is now involved in assisting their requirements when it involves physical and mental stress injuries.
What Type of Veterans Services Are Available?
Generally, we can be of volunteer assistance and advice to 48th veterans and their families in the following areas:
- Obtaining military service release certificates and Veteran photo ID cards;
- Contacting Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) and identifying what programs and services the veterans would qualify for, based on their military service, whether it be aging issues or service injuries;
- Visiting and/or speaking with our aging and modern veterans to maintain their ongoing contact with the 48thRegimental Family. This includes keeping them informed through The Falcon, and with the 48th Highlanders Association, websites and blogs, as required;
- Assisting veteran’s families in identifying alternate medical assistance and social services in the community that are available beyond the scope of VAC;
- Contacting Sunnybrook Veterans Centre in Toronto regarding placement of qualified 48th veterans whose families are unable to care for them any further. Sunnybrook is now open to post-War veterans on a case-by-case basis depending on need and qualification;
- Identifying 48th homeless veterans and connecting them with housing and support services available through The Royal Canadian Legion (RCL) and VAC;
- Assisting families, when called upon, with the funeral process and VAC/RCL contact regarding deceased 48thveterans. This includes notifying the extended Regimental Family of funeral service arrangements, and ensuring that the families of veterans have access to 48th pipers, the Padre, and Regimental service information of the deceased, if required;
- Sending representatives to speak on behalf of the Regiment at funeral services and special events for 48th veterans, as per the family’s request;
- Assisting families with their disbursement of veteran’s service kit (kilts, jackets, accessories) to 48th Regimental Stores or military artifacts (personal journals, photos, medals, artifacts) to the 48th Museum;
- Obtaining or preparing tribute/obituary articles on deceased 48th veterans for publication in The Falcon;
- Identifying various discounts and services available in the community for veterans;
- Keeping the 48th Regimental Family informed of new veterans services policy changes from RCL, VAC, and the federal government as they occur.
Who Qualifies As A Canadian Forces Veteran?
This is one of the most asked questions I receive and there is a simple answer.
Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) on their website defines a veteran as
“Any former member of the Canadian Armed Forces (Regular and Reserves) who successfully underwent basic training and is honorably discharged”.
This definition of a veteran has been used by VAC since the early 2000s. Prior to that time only those who served in WWI, WWII and Korean War were classified as veterans.
The broadening of the definition of a veteran by VAC as they state
“…recognizes the risk Canadian Armed Forces members assume by wearing the uniform and pledging allegiance.”
It is important that veterans and their families be aware of their status as a veteran and what they are entitled to in terms of services and support when they need it.
How Do I Prove I Am A Veteran?
For the purposes of VAC/RCL assistance and to receive benefits and services, a person must be able to prove they are indeed a veteran.
When you have completed your active service, the Regiment will provide you with an official Canadian Forces Release Certificate. This is a key document that can confirm your status as a veteran.
Many times over the years, I have received emails and calls from older retired members of the 48th who have lost or misplaced their CF Release Certificate. They can obtain a replacement certificate by contacting Library and Archives Canada at www.bac-lac.gc.ca, 1-866-578-7777. It usually takes 6-8 weeks to receive your new certificate and there will be a small administration fee for processing the request.
What Is The New Veterans Services Card (VSC) –NDI75?
Once you have your release certificate, and your release date was prior to 2016, I would highly recommend you apply for the new Veterans Services Card (VSC) –NDI 75.
This photo ID card includes information about your service number, rank, and record of service. The card is valuable to confirm your CF veteran status when you wish to obtain VAC/RCL services and veterans discounts/promotions through businesses in your community.
Further information on the VSC may be obtained at VSCQuestions.EnquetesCSAC@forces.gc.ca or telephone 1-833-995-0004.
In my next blog this June, I will cover the topic of Veterans Affairs Canada and its programs, benefits and policies that are of assistance to our veterans.
During the interim, if you have any questions for our 48th Veterans Services Team or require more information, please feel free to contact me at my coordinates below.
As a closing note we would like to wish a very
“HAPPY BIRTHDAY” to:
Major Thomas W. White, SBStJ, CD, KGStJ (Retd)
Tom is a proud 48th Highlander and veteran of our WWII era who will be turning 95 on March 5th. Congratulations Tom as you reach this great milestone and thank you for your lengthy service over the years to Canada and the Regiment!!
(NOTE-Tom is currently at the Sunnybrook Veterans Centre and, due to Covid restrictions, can only be reached by mail at Room 31, K2W, Sunnybrook Health Science Centre, 2075 Bayview Ave, Toronto, ON M4N 3M5. He would welcome any cards or letters from the 48th Regimental Family.)
Dileas Gu Brath
Sgt Al Kowalenko, OMC (Retd)